The freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin (trey pisaut in Khmer) is an endangered species throughout Asia, with shrinking numbers inhabiting stretches of the Mekong in Cambodia and Laos, and isolated pockets in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The blue-grey cetaceans grow to 2.75m long and are recognisable by their bulging foreheads and small dorsal fins. They can live in fresh or salt water, although they are seldom seen in the sea. For more on this rare creature, see www.worldwildlife.org/species/irrawaddy-dolphin.
Before the civil war, locals say, Cambodia was home to as many as 1000 dolphins. However, during the Pol Pot regime, many were hunted for their oils, and their numbers continue to plummet even as drastic protection measures have been put in place, including a ban on fishing and commercial motorised boat traffic on much of the Mekong between Kratie and Stung Treng. The dolphins continue to die off at an alarming rate, and experts now estimate that there are only around 80 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong between Kratie and the Lao border.
The best place to see them is at Kampi, about 15km north of Kratie, on the road to Sambor. A moto/remork (motorcycle taxi/tuk tuk) should be around US$7/10 return, depending on how long the driver has to wait. Motorboats shuttle visitors out to the middle of the river to view the dolphins at close quarters. It costs US$9 per person for one to two persons and US$7 per person for groups of three to four (children are US$4). Encourage the boat driver to use the engine as little as possible once near the dolphins, as the noise is sure to disturb them. Sorya Kayaking Adventures run excellent half-day trips to see the dolphins by kayak, passing through remote flooded forest and sandbars. It is also possible to see the river dolphins near the Lao border in Stung Treng Province.